The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.
…at the very root of the [Baha’i] Cause lies the principle of the undoubted right of the individual to self-expression, his freedom to declare his conscience and set forth his views. – Shoghi Effendi, Baha’i Administration, pp. 63-64.
Is the pen—or the keyboard—mightier than the sword?
You might think that a solitary writer wouldn’t frighten or intimidate anyone. After all, we’re just lowly scribes sending words out into the world—what could be more harmless?
Apparently, many of the world’s governments don’t see it that way—because they censor, censure, threaten, harass, punish, imprison, torture and even kill writers whose opinions they don’t like. Last year alone, more than 900 writers—poets, essayists, bloggers, novelists, journalists and historians—were harassed, imprisoned, murdered or disappeared.
Luckily, several organizations around the world stand up courageously for the basic human right of freedom of expression, and oppose attacks made against all writers.
PEN International, probably the oldest and best-known of those writers’ rights groups, works on behalf of writers worldwide. Every year on November 15th they sponsor The Day of the Imprisoned Writer, a global day of recognition that recognizes, honors and supports writers who, as PEN International describes it, “resist repression of the basic human right to freedom of expression and who stand up to attacks made against their right to impart information.”
PEN International marks The Day of the Imprisoned Writer by naming and recognizing the important work of incarcerated and persecuted novelists, poets and journalists in different parts of the world:
Each year PEN Centres and members worldwide commemorate the Day of the Imprisoned Writer to raise awareness of the unjust imprisonment and other forms of attack against writers around the globe, to remember those who have been killed, and stand in solidarity with imprisoned and threatened colleagues. – See more here.
PEN’s list encourages everyone—and this includes you, general public—to take action to free imprisoned writers with mass letter-writing campaigns. The day also commemorates all of the writers killed since last year’s DIW observance.
This year PEN will recognize and highlight the cases of five writers from Cameroon, China, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, and Paraguay. Writers around the world, and all people of conscience, call for their immediate and unconditional release; for the governments imprisoning them to immediately drop all charges; and also demand that all other writers similarly threatened be freed. To accomplish those goals, PEN Members will send appeal letters, implement media campaigns and stage public events in support of their colleagues under attack around the globe:
Dieudonné Enoh Meyomesse, a poet from Cameroon, imprisoned for 7 years as a result of politically-motivated charges
Gao Yu, a journalist from China, arrested and detained in April of 2014, her whereabouts are currently unknown
Mahvash Sabet from Iran, a Baha’i poet and teacher imprisoned since 2008 and given a 20-year sentence for her religious beliefs as a Baha’i
Azimjon Askarav from Kyrgyzstan, an investigative journalist and member of the Uzbek minority, sentenced to life in prison for exposing corruption
Nelson Aguilera from Paraguay, sentenced to 30 months in prison for alleged plagiarism
Each of these writers comes from a different part of the world–and each case represents and symbolizes hundreds of other brutally repressive responses that occur when governments or other entities in power feel threatened by what writers write. Each year, when PEN names its list of imprisoned writers, PEN members write to them publicly. This year, the renowned Argentine-born Canadian writer Alberto Manguel wrote to Mahvash Sabet, whose book Prison Poems tells the story of her unjust imprisonment:
I can’t offer you anything in your cell except my devotion as your reader, my trust in better times, and my distant but sincere friendship. I hope that in the very near future we will meet in person, not only on the page.
If you would like to take part in The Day of the Imprisoned Writer and help release these peaceful, poetic souls from their prisons, PEN International’s website has all the names and addresses of the authorities who imprisoned them–or who have the power to free them. To help, go to www.pen-international.org and click on the imprisoned writers to learn the names of who you can personally address to free them. Take a few minutes to sit down and write a letter today, and use your words to help free another writer.